South Charlotte

Norwegians celebrate independence

Kristine Jones thought she'd be OK on her first May 17 in the United States.

However, the more news the native Norwegian read about Syttende Mai plans in Norway, the more she realized she did not want the day to pass without fanfare.

May 17 is Norwegian Constitution Day, a major holiday that celebrates Norway's independence from Sweden in 1814.

"I thought I wouldn't be emotional about it, but as it got closer, I said, 'I have to celebrate this,'" said Jones, who moved to South Carolina eight months ago from Norway and married her American boyfriend, Bradley Jones.

Bradley searched online until he found Norsk Carolina Sons of Norway Lodge, a growing Charlotte-based Norwegian group that celebrates May 17 each year.

"It is huge," Kristine said last Sunday.

Many of the group's activities are centered in south Charlotte, where a number of Norsk Carolina Lodge members live. The past two Norwegian Christmas dinners have been held at Olde Providence Racquet Club, and the group recently announced that after many years uptown, the annual ScanFest Scandinavian festival will move to Carolina Courts in Indian Trail.

Kristine wore a bright blue dress and a large silver pendant in the shape of Norway to the celebration at Reedy Creek Park.

"The 17th of May is the one day where Norwegians are really patriotic," she said.

Kristine left with new Norwegian friends and a lunch date with several women for the next week.

Like many Norwegians, Jones doubted she would find fellow countrymen in the Carolinas, but Norsk Carolina Lodge, and now a new Norwegian restaurant in uptown Charlotte, are providing common ground for Norwegian natives.

Norsk Carolina, one of many Sons of Norway lodges in the United States, began in 2009, when the international group began looking for local Norwegians to start a chapter in Charlotte. Carol King, whose partner Mette Andersen is Norwegian, was the first president.

The group meets monthly at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Charlotte. They also visit schools and cultural events to provide information about Norway.

King said alternative energy is a large industry in Norway. Now that Duke Energy and other area companies support alternative energy, more native Norwegians are moving to the Charlotte area.

Peder and Allison Holter-Sorensen moved to Charlotte from Norway last year after enjoying a vacation in the area five years earlier. They say parts of North Carolina, especially the mountains, remind them of Norway. "It's just a little warmer here," Peder Holter-Sorensen said.

They came without jobs and settled in Huntersville with their three children. Two weeks after they arrived, they attended the 2010 Syttende Mai celebration with Norsk Carolina Lodge.

"We felt like it was important for our kids to hold onto their Norwegian heritage," Allison said.

The lodge was to gather at Valhalla, Kristian Pedersen's new Norwegian restaurant on Brevard Street, this weekend to say goodbye to King, who is moving to Norway this summer with Andersen. Ruth Campbell is the new president.

Visit www.norskcarolina.org.

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